Counter 11: The Pouring Mist
Ten minutes after two o’clock in the afternoon
Dark smoke rises towards the clear blue sky. The wind blows calmly from the sea shore. The trees rustle and specks of dust whirl in the air. Clanks resound as Taka and Gaozu walks around the gym’s roof to secure their position. Elen turns her sight around peeking back and forth from the hologram videos. Some things are not working the way they expected. She bites her thumb nail while fixing her eyes on the feedback of the ongoing battles.
“They are responding to our attack as if they knew we are coming.” Elen mumbles. “But… Something else is off. Something is wrong… all this commotion-” She suddenly turns towards the direction of the dorms.
“What is it major?” Taka asks.
Elen passes her binoculars to him and then points at the dorms. “Taka, tell me what you see over there.”
“Huh-?..” He uses the binoculars to check into the pointed area. “Buildings?... Um, the dormitories.”
“Nothing really.” He puts the binoculars down while looking confused.
“Nothing?” She repeats and her brows knit. “No people? How about the students? None of them came out to check on what’s happening? Does none of them care at all? They should have heard that loud explosion.”
Gaozu takes the binoculars and then checks at the dorms. “It’s true,” he says. “This is not how it should be.”
“Hey, hey-” Azalea suddenly calls their attention. “Miss Elen, that tattoo on your wrist… It’s the emblem of K’shirm, isn’t it?”
Elen peeks at her wrist and then pulls the sleeve of her black body fitted suit. “What do you know?” She asks, her tone sounds deep.
“Just enough for anyone who knows how to read a history book.” Azalea answers wearing her extra sweet business smile. “I thought that cult died several decades ago.”
“We’re not a cult!” Elen grits her teeth.
“Is that so?..” Azalea tilts her head. Her expression falls flat.
“The likes of you should-” She stops before she can finish. She bites her lip and then turns around.
K’shirm is a religious organization that believes in preserving “normality.” In other words, a world for the ubliss, ruled by the ubliss. They flourished during the Age of Chaos and participated in many wars around the world. Because majority of the population of the world are unbliss, it was not difficult to find faithful members in different countries. Due to the unstable and fragile peace and order of the era there were many wars where the reveils are involved and made to fight as powerful murder machines. Many powerless people saw the reveils in a dark light, especially the civilians who did not want to get involved in the war but because of some accident, their loved ones were taken away.
With K’shirm claiming to bring them justice and give them protection, many ubliss joined together to find different ways to fight against the more powerful reveils. Gathering the richest minds and funded by a large number of faithful followers, K’shirm invented weapons to rival the reveils. Their growing technology and strategic approach showed remarkable results. They fought targeting the reveils and proved that even the ubliss can stand up to these seemingly untouchable forces.
However, due to their victories and expanding number of followers little by little as years passed by, the organization changed internally. From an organization that wants to bring justice and protect, they focused more on taking over the world.
K’shirm is a religious entity that worships a god who created the world for the pure souls, the ubliss. They believe that the ubliss are superior and the reveils are products of curses to punish them because their ancestors committed a grave sin against god. K’shirm spread their teachings that encouraged the ubliss to stand up for themselves and take their place as the rightful rulers of the world. However not everyone in K’shirm followed such philosophy.
There are those who believe that using violence against the reveils is not what god wants his people to do, rather they should open a peaceful means to accept and convert reveils to become a part of their religion. This would only be possible by implementing restrictions and tight supervisions on the reveils as they pray to have their sins be forgiven, so that they can start over again as an untainted child of god. Because of this, the organization started to be divided into two factions.
At the end of the Age of Chaos, K’shirm is one of the biggest organizations that ICA crashed until the remaining members had no choice but to disperse and go into hiding. There are still few places that believe in K’shirm’s teaching but as long as they do not disturb the peace and order that ICA had established, they are left alone to express their own beliefs.
“You’re just like those monsters and demons.” Elen says softly.
“Mhm?..” Azalea stares at her. She then gazes towards the hologram feedback. “You’re a hardcore believer, aren’t you?.. I wonder what caused the change of heart?”
“Change of heart?”
“Those other intruders that the professors are fighting don’t look like they are ubliss.” She says coldly while staring at the ongoing battle of Professor Crownheit and Professor Zhu. “I wonder… what about these two here?”
Elen pulls out a pistol. “I don’t think I need them to shut you up!”
A gunshot echoes. The bullet sounds like it hit something before dropping down the roof. For a moment after the first gunshot, only the clink of the crumpled bullet tumbling and rolling down the uneven roof is heard. Elen’s eyes widen. After assessing the situation she grits her teeth and then continues to pull the trigger. Consecutive gunshots thunders nonstop until the magazine is emptied. Crumpled bullets showered down the roof while Azalea remains standing, calm and untouched.
“A magical barrier.” Elen mumbles. “I don’t get it.”
Taka and Gaozu are posing in a defensive stance while Elen changes the magazine. She points her gun at Azalea once again.
“Why?” Her eyes burn fiercely while she stares at the mage who shows no reaction towards her provocation. “You’re really… You have no plans to fight? Are you looking down on me?!”
“We have plenty of time.” Azalea answers with a calm tone. “I’ll play with you.”
Elen lowers her gun. She questions the weirdness of this situation while searching her mind for possible answers.
“Should we attack instead?” Taka asks.
“Wait,” she responds. She clicks her tongue; a certain thought crosses her mind. “She’s not attacking… It’s not that. She can’t…” She fixes her gaze back at Azalea. “You can’t attack, can you? The reason is…” She fires another shot at her and then a crumpled bullet bounces away.
“That barrier is to protect yourself, while being out in the open… And to choose this location-!!” She grips her gun tighter while wearing an obvious frown. “You’re maintaining multiple spells right now, aren’t you?”
“Well educated, I like you.” Azalea claps.
“What kind of spells?.. No- Did you set a trap?”
“I can’t tell you that. But if you can guess correctly, I’ll give you a piece of candy.”
Before Elen’s patience runs out, something in the holographic video catches her attention. The set of battles that her comrades are currently dealing with does not seem to be leaning towards their favor.
Eleven minutes past two o’clock in the afternoon
Nalkad Island, South-East Shore Area
Squad One’s mission is to enter AB Academy through the shores. From a submarine, the squad is composed of six people. They dive and swim across the ocean to reach the shores. It is about ten to fifteen-minute swimming. Upon infiltrating the academy, they are already expecting to be intercepted and then to quickly engage in battle. Regrettably, the very moment they step foot on the shore, a woman attacks them without any warning. Being the first one to remove his diving gears, C36 goes ahead to defend his comrades. He takes the woman’s ki-imbued fist using his arms shielded by magic.
“That was sudden and she almost caught us off guard.” He tells himself while observing the surrounding area for more enemies.
“Everyone!” The squad leader, Ito, calls out. “Take off all unnecessary equipment on you as fast as you can! Run towards the forest!” He commands with his solid voice as he points towards the forest. As ordered, everyone runs and follows the commander. “C36,” he calls, “stall as long as you can.”
He nods. Ito then runs after the others leaving him behind. He stands fearless in front of that woman whose eyes are then fixed to those who are leaving the battle ground. “I’ll be your only opponent now.” He says with a smirk; purposely bluffing his way.
She snorts. He believes she did, but then he realizes that it is more like a sigh of discontent.
“How infuriating.” He grits his teeth.
That woman should only be able to think that way if she is incredibly skilled. He then tries hard to remember the profiles of their expected opponents. He is not that smart so he cannot recognize them in one glance.
“She does not appear to be a student here, so she is obviously a teacher… right?” He tells himself while staring fiercely at the woman.
“Are you just going to stare at me?” She spats. “And here I thought you are one tough opponent.” She looks so composed while the breeze blows at her hair and clothes.
C36 gulps. He fixes his eyes at her anticipating her next move. He must not let her notice his uneasy feeling. “Black curly hair,” he watches her hair sway like waves along with the sea shore breeze. “Dark green eyes,” he mumbles looking at the eyes that are glaring him. “She is a ki master…” Upon thinking that, something snaps into his mind. The cold wind cannot stop the beads of sweat forming on his forehead. “This woman is Xiao Feng Zhu!!”
“What’s wrong?” She sounds impatient. From her composed stand, she moves her left foot a step behind while her right arm is stretching forward. Her fist closed and elbow a little bent.
Her left arm that is resting beside, moves up to her chest level with her fist clenched tight. Her knees are bent as well, giving her balance and control with stability. “If you’re not going to attack then I’ll go first,” says she. “I still have to deal with the other five.”
“She talks as if she has already seen the conclusion of this fight, huh?”
At the blink of an eye, Xiao Feng disappears from where she is standing. Only spiraling dust and sand remains. Panic creeps up C36’s joints. He feels a chilling breeze around his left side. Before he knows what’s happening, Xiao Feng is already so close to him. With magic, he struggles to shield himself from her unforgiving fist. With a quick low-tier shield, he is unable to stop the fist that is storming towards his face. The force of her attack manages to break the magic shield and push him back, making his feet carve two wobbly lateral lines on the beach.
“Too weak,” her soft voice rings along with the ocean waves.
The person he is up against is nothing near “ordinary.” She cannot be categorized just as some school teacher who happens to be a reveil. She is more than what her first impression shows. While he is dozing off deep in his thoughts, again, from his line of sight, she disappears. But this time he prepares himself. He tries to sense the direction of her attack and then block her with his strongest shield. So, when he feels her closing in from his right side, he clenches his fists.
“This time I will not be taken aback,” that is what he tells himself.
But a strong blow rapidly hits him. It is so strong that he flies away. His body dashes in mid-air like an out of control rocket before roughly grazing the ground. Without really knowing what happened, he just finds himself suddenly lying near the forest area.
“What hit me?” He asks himself while struggling to get back on his feet.
When he turns his eyes back at Xiao Feng, she only stands at the place where he used to be.
She is staring back at him and it seems that she have no intention of making a follow-up attack. With her quiet gaze, he thought he would be safe for a while. As he struggles to at least sit up on the ground, a sudden sharp excoriating pain eats up his right arm. The pain is so great that he unconsciously lets out a scream.
Xiao Feng then starts walking calmly towards C36 while he curls up in pain due to his broken right arm. As she comes closer C36 cannot help but think that the one coming for him is nothing like school teacher, rather that one is a undoubtedly a monster. That thought is reinforced as her emotionless expression becomes clearer the closer she is to him. She walks as if she is about to execute someone. A nostalgic and terrifying feeling is starting to burn inside him.
Looking at the bluish purple stain at around his arm, he knows for sure that the bones within are crushed beyond rehabilitation. His heart is pounding fast and loud. Beans of sweat start to form and roll down his face. He now clearly knows the difference in their power.
“I see, now. What she referred to as ‘too weak,’ wasn’t me but her first attack.” He grumbles.
At that moment, he is reminded of his past. He used to stand in an arena and fight to death. The kind of presence that Xiao Feng gives off is the same of those fighters taking their victory walk. The pressure coming solely from her presence is making it difficult for him to breath. Then he remembers the profile of one of the professors to watch out for in this academy. This woman is a licensed demon hunter. She, for a short period of time, became a quite famous. She was once known as the Cavalier of Light. She got her license at the age of twenty-one. She hunted demons a few times and then disappeared.
“I have to pull myself together before she strikes me again!” He screams in his mind.
Just when he thought that everything is over, Xiao Feng simply walks past him.
“Now, she thinks that I can no longer fight and so she decided to go after my comrades. I may be lucky this time around… But, I cannot let her go. I cannot let her follow them. Not this soon!” He puts all his strength to stand up.
With his mission as top priority, he runs towards the forest. He needs to distance himself away from her. He believes that she is only using direct ki-imbued physical attacks. So, if he could go far enough, she will not be able to reach him easily. This time for sure, he will be the one taking the upper hand. It seems that she is ignoring him.
“She must be very confident, just because she got that piece of scrap license and few battle experiences. If I keep running looking desperate, she will think I am forfeiting our fight, but that is so wrong. From here, I will attack, or at least I will keep her from leaving this place.
Just one snap of my fingers!” He tells himself.
Xiao Feng continues to walk calmly looking for the other intruders. Her head turns around, observing the close by trees and checking for possible tracks or traps left behind.
“Miss Xiao Feng!” He shouts to get her attention. “Our fight isn’t over yet!” He makes sure that she focuses her gaze on him. “Look here so that I can get the vine to creep at your feet and render you immobile.” He thinks.
The moment she makes a step towards C36, the vines wrap her feet. Struggle is futile. His magic allows him to control nearby vines like they are extension of his very own limbs. This forest is rich with plants and epiphytes, no matter how you look at it, this place is definitely his territory. As she tries to free her right foot from the vines entanglement, more of the crawling vines wrap themselves on her left foot.
Quickly. Flawlessly. Silently. The vines that are crawling on the ground and on the trees, under C36’s command, is pulling her legs causing her to fall. Before she can fight back, she finds herself hanging upside-down with her legs tightly tied together.
Rapidly. Impedingly. Soundlessly.
In a moment, C36 catches her wrapped within the vines unable to move. The demon hunter known as “The Cavalier of Light,” is helpless in front of me, she will not be going anywhere for a while.
“Hey,” says she.
C36 stands far from her for caution but she looks at him straight in the face while hanging like a giant cocoon swinging on a branch.
“I'd rather not have the likes of you say that name. I find it quite appalling.”
“Huh-?” He chokes. “What is she trying to get at? Is she provoking me? There is no way she does not understand her situation now, is there?.. Or could it be that I am the one who…”
“Are you done?” Again she talks with composure.
C36 is standing while his legs are frozen with doubt, confusion and inexplicable fear. Then a blinding light takes over his sight.
“You--” All of a sudden Xiao Feng’s voice rings behind him.
When he moves to face her, he notices her index and middle fingers pointed right in middle of his chest.
“Don’t worry, you won’t die just yet.”
Everything else that happened next is too fast for him to understand. The next thing he knows, he cannot move anymore. His body is paralyzed. He lays limp on the ground unable to use magic. The woman that stands close to his immobile body again reminds him of the old days. Her clothes have rips that seems to have been inflicted when she broke herself free from the vines. Although it does not look like she has any flesh wounds because there is not a single stain of blood on her clothes.
“How professional…” He thinks.
Xiao Feng turns her back to make a call. There C36 notices a tattoo peeking from the rips of her clothes. That is when he is able to piece everything together and clearly see the big picture.
He laughs menacingly. As if he is losing his mind. “Why?.. You? A professor? What a fucking joke!”
Xiao Feng turns towards the man lying down. She cancels her call and looks down at C36 who is screaming like mad.
“You’re a murderer just like me!” C36 continues. His voice shakes with anger. “How come you were saved?! Why are you allowed to turn your life the other way after you stole so many?! You were one of the best fighters! The audience’ favorite, I29… You should be in our place too. How come you get to live well while we’re still stuck in the same hell?!”
“So, you really are one… from that underground arena.” Xiao Feng says in the same calm tone and the same emotionless eyes. It’s as if she has expected this outcome.
“4026-I29.” She answers. “A year too early. If you were only shipped a little later, you could have been saved too.”
“I’ve only seen you fight a few times before my batch was sold away. You always finished your opponents quick and clean. The audiences of that live snuff show were not so amused but at the same time a number of them were very interested in your skills. Was there anyone who could rival your speed and knife techniques?”
“I wasn’t the best. I just learned from a senior.”
He snorts. “Is that so?.. Luck is just… really on your side, huh. So unfair… Hey, how could you stay alive after everything you’ve done? Because, you see… I wanted to…”
The words that C36 is about to say did not come out. He simply lays motionless on the ground. Xiao Feng kneels to inspect his condition. She places her hand under his nose then she checks the pulse in his neck.
“Because I took all those lives…” She whispers. “That’s why I cannot die. It’s very disrespectful.”
Then she moves her hand to close C36’s lightless eyes.
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